The Aesthetics of Belonging

Indigenous Urbanism and City Building in Oil-Boom Luanda

By Claudia Gastrow

The Aesthetics of Belonging

Approx. 256 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 18 halftones, 3 maps, notes, bibl., index, 85,000 words

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-8218-1
    Published: October 2024
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-8217-4
    Published: October 2024

Paperback Available October 2024, but pre-order your copy today!

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After centuries of colonial rule, the end of Angola's three-decade civil war in 2002 provided an irresistible opportunity for the government to reimagine the Luanda cityscape. Awash with petrodollars cultivated through strategic foreign relationships, President José Eduardo dos Santos rolled out a national reconstruction program that sought to transform Angola's capital into what he considered to be a modern, world-class metropolis. Until funds dried up in 2014, the program—in conjunction with sweeping private investments in real estate—involved mass demolitions of vernacular architecture to make way for high-rise buildings, large-scale housing projects, and commercial centers. The program thus underestimated the values enshrined in the materials and designs of Luanda's existing "informally" constructed neighborhoods, or musseques.

The Aesthetics of Belonging explores the political significance of aesthetics in the remaking of the city. Claudia Gastrow's archival and ethnographic work, which includes interviews with city planners, architects, nonprofit leaders, and urban dwellers, shows how government infrastructure projects and foreign-inspired designs came to embody displacement and exclusion for many. This, Gastrow argues, catalyzed a countermovement, an aesthetic dissent rooted in critically reframing informal urbanism as Indigenous—a move that enabled the possibility of recognizing the political potential of informal settlements as spaces that produce belonging.

About the Author

Claudia Gastrow is assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at North Carolina State University. She is also research associate in the Department of Anthropology and Development Studies at the University of Johannesburg.
For more information about Claudia Gastrow, visit the Author Page.


"A magnificent contribution. This book asks the fundamental question about what constitutes a desirable city and who is entitled to inhabit this space of urban desirability."—Filip De Boeck, University of Leuven

"Gastrow not only sheds new light on the Angolan postwar reconstruction boom; she also theorizes urbanism and citizenship beyond binarities of formal versus informal or Western versus autochthonous."—Chloé Buire, Les Afriques dans le Monde, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique